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Saturday, 2 October 2021

Max Lumi's monitor functionality compared to the Onyx Boox Mira

Onyx Boox sells two E Ink monitors - the Mira Pro and Mira. The Mira Pro is a regular-sized 23-inches monitor. On the other hand, the Boox Mira is a 13.3-inches portable E Ink monitor that weighs 590 grams. Considering Max Lumi's screen is 13.3-inches - the largest note-taking e-reader from Onyx Boox - and can be used as a monitor, shouldn't it be a better option? After all, the Lumi costs slightly more but has the added functionality of being a note-taking e-reader. 

I think it is not right to compare the Lumi to the Mira. The Max Lumi is a note-taking e-reader first and is not optimised to be used as a monitor. To use the Lumi as a monitor, it is necessary first to access a designated application. Accordingly, the monitor feature is baked into Boox's Android-based operating system - to customise the front light, change the display mode or contrast, it is necessary to use the application's settings. 

Other issues to consider is input lag, resolution optimisation problems, increasing battery damage and E Ink screen degradation. Of course, this is not to say an E Ink monitor will resolve these issues. Nevertheless, a purpose-built monitor can help with specifically designed features like setting refresh speed when scrolling, improving input lag, providing an optimised list of display modes and resolution scaling. Onyx Boox will also release desktop software to manipulate the display's output based on the use case. Working from within the desktop environment cuts the need for a third-party go-between (as with the Lumi). 

The more significant issue is what can an E Ink monitor realistically offer? Technically, an E Ink display can play a video, but image degradation and ghosting mean it isn't a realistic option. As a niche product, the use cases of an E Ink monitor is some coding, light web browsing, word processing, general productivity like reading documents and accessing emails. Most of the noted tasks may work on the Max Lumi, but the experience is better optimised with a dedicated monitor.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

A purpose-built E Ink word processor

We have seen many products that utilise E Ink (some not appropriate considering the limitations of the technology), e.g., smartphones, monitors, note-takers, smartwatches and signage. However, one use case that hasn't been seen is a designated E Ink word processor. Onyx Boox e-readers - with their strong processors - can be used for word processing. However, for word processing, it is necessary to use third-party applications developed for tablets and smartphones. Thus, the experience of using these applications is generally poor. 

What would an E Ink word processor look like? I don't think it requires the development of a new product altogether. An option would be developing a note-taking e-reader so that its form factor can support a smart connector that attaches to a specifically designed keyboard (like Apple's iPad keyboards). 

The most significant part of the development would be the software needed for a refined typing experience, i.e., no lag with text input and simplified menus. Other features required would be a spell checker, typesetting options, footnotes, creation of tables and cloud syncing. Further, an E Ink word processor app would add value to a note-taking e-reader as many users find it difficult to spend long periods in front of a light-emitting display when writing documents.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Paperwhite Kids is the best value Kindle

I was surprised to learn that Amazon released a kids version of the Kindle Paperwhite. Interestingly the regular Kindle Paperwhite (with ads) costs £130. The Paperwhite Kids - with a bundled case, two-year worry-free guarantee, one-year Kids+ subscription and no ads (*) - costs £140. Considering the £10 differential, the Paperwhite Kids is the Kindle to get. To compare, the difference between the entry-level Kindle and its kid's version is £30. 

Furthermore, the Paperwhite Kids offers far more value than the Kids Edition. The Paperwhite Kids is £40 more than the entry-level Kids Edition while being a far better product with a bigger screen, better resolution, waterproofing and better front light.

(*) As the Kids Edition has no ads, I am assuming that the Paperwhite Kids similarly should have none.

Monday, 20 September 2021

The 6-inches e-reader is no longer the default size

Most of the early e-readers were 6-inches in size. Kobo tried to change things when it introduced the Kobo Aura HD in 2013 with a 6.8-inches screen. As the larger screen size was relatively novel, Kobo marketed the Aura HD as the "The eReader, reimagined". Onyx Boox experimented with a 6.8-inches size when it released the T68 in 2014. The 8-inches Boox i86 followed in 2015 as Onyx Boox gradually moved beyond the 6-inches e-reader. 

However, in my view, Kobo - as an established vendor - with the release of the Aura One in late 2016, finally started an industry-wide move to larger e-readers. The 7.8-inches size was popular and followed by Boox's Nova series. Before the Nova series, Onyx Boox also released the N96 (9.7-inches) and Boox Max (13.3-inches) earlier in 2016.  Amazon - stubbornly keeping to the 6-inches size - released its first 7-inches e-reader in late 2017 (the Kindle Oasis 2). 

We still see 6-inches e-readers released, but they are now one option among others rather than the default size. With Amazon updating the Paperwhite with a 6.8-inches screen, the entry-level Kindle is now the only 6-inches e-reader they sell. I can envisage Amazon releasing an Oasis 4 with a 7.8-inches screen to further distinguish it as the premium Kindle. It took some time, but the move beyond the 6-inches size is a welcome change. Those wanting something compact can still find a selection to choose from, e.g., the Likebook P6, Onyx Boox Poke 3, Kobo Nia, Kobo Clara HD and the entry-level Kindle. 

Friday, 17 September 2021

Review of the Likebook P78: Noticeable improvements but some long-standing issues remain unresolved

Besides the Likebook P78, Boyue produces several e-readers in different sizes – the Likebook P6 and Likebook P10 are the latest offerings. Compared to Onyx Boox, Boyue e-readers also cost less. The Likebook P10, for example, can be found online for less than £200 (without the stylus). Similarly, the Likebook P78 is available for less than £150. While drawbacks exist, the Likebook P78 is a capable 7.8-inches e-reader at an attractive price.

The display’s contrast

I like the 300 PPI E Ink Carta screen. Text appears darker than other Android e-readers I’ve tested. As a comparison, an identical image is shown below - to the left is the Likebook P78, and to the right is the Onyx Boox Note 3. While the image is expectedly clearer with the P78’s higher resolution, it is also noticeably less faded (see picture below). 

Likebook P78 (left) Vs. Onyx Boox Note 3 (right)

Battery life is another area of improvement. I noticed that the Boyue e-readers I’ve used before didn’t conserve energy compared to others (conserving energy in standby mode is a particular problem). While Onyx Boox is still better at saving energy in Android, the Likebook P78 performs well. Instead of a battery life of three to four days with regular use, I was getting close to one week. Battery life is helped by the P78’s 3200 mAh battery capacity and the absence of a Wacom layer. It should be noted that I used the P78 as an e-reader - if used to browse the web with WiFi active, the battery drains faster than a tablet.

The front light is usable, but lumination is not even. It is possible to mix the orange/yellow light with the white one for nighttime reading. 

The same unrefined quirky software

Again, the issue of an unrefined user experience remains. Due to poor translation and incorrect labelling, trial and error are necessary to know and locate different features. For example, the alignment scheme options under ‘more settings’ are word spacing, hyphen, char spacing, and none. To understand what these schemes change, I had to select each one separately to see their effects. Nonetheless, after an initial learning curve, the native e-reading application (Z-Reader) covers most features that Onyx Boox devices support.

The native e-reading application (Z-Reader) has been updated with better support for e-books. For example, navigating within an e-book using hyperlinks works smoothly, and images appear correctly. Another improvement is that typesetting options maintain the structure of e-books. One feature that would give Z-Reader an edge - considering the feature is not supported by Onyx Boox - is the possibility to install the application on another Android device to sync reading locations and annotations.

The problem of confusing translation and labelling continues with Boyue’s PDF software. Thus, orientation is the label given to contrast enhancement and typesetting for cropping (see picture below)! In any case, the cropping works well. Under contrast, there are further options to adjust text thickness, picture contrast and text contrast separately (though the results of adjusting these options were sometimes hit and miss). 

Pinch-to-zoom in a PDF is smooth, but there is no way to lock zoom level. Another issue I’ve encountered with the P78 and other Likebook e-readers is when quickly navigating through a PDF, there is an interval before a page is loaded from the memory cache. It appears there is a problem in the optimisation of memory retrieval as the P78’s 2GB RAM should be sufficient.

Highlighting text in PDF documents is done by moving two brackets. The process is delicate and, sometimes, multiple attempts are needed to select a passage. Overall, while better than Kobo or Amazon, the P78’s PDF support is a weakness. As a result, I chose to use KOReader to read PDF documents.

Sluggish performance

Boyue does not clarify what processor they use (they merely state it is a quad-core 1.5 GHz processor). It appears Boyue mistakenly listed the processor as quad-core. Instead, they could be using the Likebook’s Ares’s processor - the 8-core 1.5GHz RK3365 - as externally, the Likebook P78 is identical to the Likebook Ares. In any case, as an e-reader, the P78’s processor's performance is adequate. 

On the other hand, if the added functionality of Android is needed - e.g., word processing and browsing websites - Onyx Boox note-taking e-readers are a better choice. Not only are they more powerful, but they also have more optimisation options for third-party apps. The P78 supports A2 mode, full screen, application refresh rate, image brightness adjustment, contrast adjustment, DPI adjustment and Regal refresh. In comparison, Onyx Boox has other features like font bolding, icon colour adjustment, background colour adjustment, animation filter and two other refresh modes (speed mode and X-Mode). Speed mode is between normal and A2 mode, and X-Mode speeds up navigation but generates heavier ghosting than A2 mode. 

Onyx Boox’s software - though also needing refinement - is more stable and with a wider variety of features. While Onyx Boox devices cost more, they also can do more due to their better hardware. Nonetheless, considering the low price, the P78 is a good choice for a mid-sized e-reader.  

The official case

As a final note, I wish to mention the official case as it re-iterates the problem with a lack of refinement in the product. The navy coloured official case is made of a flexible TPU soft back and a front PU leather cover. The case itself offers good protection and is light - the problem is that the front cover does not magnetically shut. Thus, closing the cover doesn’t put the e-reader to sleep unless it is aligned to the back’s raised edges. As the front cover slides - due to the absence of magnets - I noticed any slight movement re-awakes the e-reader.

Concluding remarks

While Boyue’s unrefined software is a long-term issue, the drawbacks don’t negate that the P78 is a capable e-reader. The native software is improved considering previous iterations, but Boyue’s e-readers are still for more experienced users. 

Considering Onyx Boox no longer produces mid-sized e-readers without note-taking capabilities, the P78 becomes an option for those that want one at an attractive price. The P78’s older version of Android (8.1) isn’t an issue as third-party reading applications install with no problem, e.g., Moon+ Reader Pro and KOReader. Beyond an e-reader, the sluggishness of the P78 and lack of features for third-party applications means an Onyx Boox device is the better option. 

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Review of the Kindle Kids Edition: A worthwhile tool to encourage reading

The Kindle Kids Edition is the entry-level Kindle, plus a case, no ads, one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ and two-year accidents included warranty. The Kids Edition costs £99.99 - making it £30 more than the regular entry-level Kindle. 

This review considers the extras and asks whether they make the Kindle Kids Edition a worthwhile investment to encourage kids to read. 

As a standalone e-reader 

The entry-level Kindle is a utilitarian device. It is a no-frills e-reader with a relatively low 165 PPI resolution. Released in Spring 2019, it brought a front-light for the first time to the cheapest Kindle. I've reviewed the entry-level Kindle before and wasn't impressed with its screen. 

Considering the £99 price of the Kids Edition, the Kindle Paperwhite is significantly better and costs only £20 more as a standalone Kindle. Paperwhite's 300 PPI resolution make a big difference to the reading experience - the text appears sharper and focused. For adult readers, some bundled extras are attractive but are not enough to sway from the Paperwhite. 

As a kids e-reader 

Of course, the bundled case, two-year accident warranty and one-year Kids+ subscription are targeted at kids. The kids-centric software features themselves are available on all Kindles. Once a child profile is set up, it is possible to access the kid's profile from the top right dropdown menu. Kids+ supports multiple profiles so that a further one can be set up for another child. 

After entering the kid's profile, there is a simplified home screen. The home screen is categorised, e.g., top picks, popular books, characters and themes and newly released books (the categories only appear if WiFi is turned on). Further, there are further sub-categories under character and themes like mysteries and investigations, classic literature, Disney titles, and school and learning. Further, there are some Audible books available too. Overall, the selection is adequate, and there is something for every reader. 

The software has built-in awards to encourage reading. A vocabulary builder archives words looked up while reading (the feature is also available for adult readers). In the awards category, reading activity is tracked, and achievements are registered with badges based on the number of pages and days of reading. 

The child can select any e-book to download and read offline. Due to the small screen size of Kindles, some downloaded storybooks can be challenging to follow and read for a child. Pinch to zoom is possible, but it is not user friendly for younger users to navigate. 

As Kids+ is an Amazon service, it is possible to access content on a Fire, Android or iOS tablet. Further curated multimedia content is available for kids on tablets, e.g., movies, TV, apps, games, web videos, and websites. One helpful aspect of Kids+ on a tablet is the possibility to set the child's age range. On the negative side, it appears that content downloaded on a Kindle doesn't sync to a tablet device or even another Kindle. I don't know why Amazon has neglected the sync feature - it would have been helpful to download pictures or Audible books on a Kindle to access the content on a tablet. 

Above: Kindle Kids Edition home screen

Is it worth it? 

For a child, the Kids Edition is a worthwhile investment. The trappings of the Kindle Paperwhite are not crucial for younger readers - the one-year Kids+ subscription, two-years accident warranty and bundled case are more relevant. Amazon sell kids editions of their Fire tablets that provide access to the same content and more. However, reading on an E Ink screen causes less distraction and is healthier for children. There are already too many distracting light-emitting screens. 

A negative is the Kindle's small screen that is not suitable for picture e-books. It is possible to access the e-book on a tablet, but that beats the purpose of using an e-reader to cut out screen time. Furthermore, if an e-book is downloaded on the Kindle, it is not synced to a cloud library to immediately access on another device. 

While the Kids Edition is a worthwhile investment, there are other Amazon free possibilities too. For example, another option is to co-manage a reading plan with a child. Books can be downloaded from websites and side-loaded or borrowed from a public library using OverDrive. In the case of borrowing e-books, a Kobo e-reader is the better option.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

PineNote: A note-taking e-reader targeted at developers

Pine 64 are the company behind Pinebook, PineTime, PineTab and PinePhone. All the devices they release runs open-source Linux. Added to the noted devices, Pine 64 announced the release of the PineNote - a 10.1-inches note-taking e-reader. Initially, PineNote's operating system will be Manjaro Linux

The early adopter's $399 price falls within the general price range of similar devices. It should be noted that the early batch will be targeted at developers and not end-users. The goal is to develop a community of developers that will produce E-Ink friendly apps.

It is justifiable if the product's final price is higher, as it comes with a powerful processor, compared to other note-taking e-readers, and 128GB storage. 

The device itself looks very similar to the Bookeen Notéa. Thus, the PineNote probably comes from the same OEM but with different internals.